A few days ago I learned of one of the most important events that has occurred in my life. This was the freeing of the Cuban political prisoners held by the United States government. The three of the five who were freed recently served about fifteen years in prison. These were Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Ramon Labanino Salazar, and Fernando Gonzalez. Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo were released from prison a few years ago.
In a Democracy Now interview with Gerardo Hernandez at the time of his return to Cuba, he gave the reason for why he decided to become a spy for Cuba. He spoke about how the Cuban people had been exposed to terroristic plots of aircraft and hotel bombings that were organized out of Miami, Florida. His decision to become a spy was to work to put an end to these terroristic acts.
When I listened to these words by Hernandez, I thought of the life of Geronimo Pratt (Geronimo ji-Jaga). Pratt spent twenty-seven years in prison for a crime that the government eventually admitted he did not commit. He received $4,500,000 as compensation for his years in prison. Of that amount, $1,750,000 came from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their role in his frame-up.
Geronimo Pratt grew up in Morgan City, Louisiana at the time of Jim Crow segregation. He lived in a segregated neighborhood known as Across the Tracks. As a young man, Pratt was arrested because his friend was accused of looking at, or whistling at a white woman. Emmitt Till was lynched for a similar so-called offence.
The Black people of Across the Tracks organized to defend themselves against the racists who routinely carried out terroristic raids against their community. In Louisiana, these forces were called the Deacons of Defense.
Geronimo Pratt eventually received military training and was a decorated soldier who participated in the U.S. war against Vietnam. Eventually he learned that the Vietnamese were not his enemy. However, the police department of Los Angeles, California had a routine practice of harassing the Black community. He felt the community needed to be defended against this harassment, just as his relatives defended the community against the Ku Klux Klan. In this effort, he became the Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party. This is why Geronimo became a target of the police and the FBI.
Cuba, before the revolution
Before the Cuban Revolution, the government, in effect, followed the dictates of Washington. This meant that the Cuban people experienced the same kind of discrimination against Blacks as existed in the United States. The government of Fulgencio Batista murdered an estimated 20,000 Cubans in his effort to remain in power.
Sugar was the primary source of income on the island and about 500,000 workers toiled in this industry. Most of these workers only had jobs for about three months per year, and needed to find a way to survive for the long months when they had no work. These conditions drove many women into the cities where they were effectively forced to work as prostitutes.
The Cuban Revolution
The Cuban revolution made a fundamental change in these conditions. Health care, education, and the elimination of poverty became the top priorities of the government. These changes created an atmosphere where Cuba today has twice the number of medical doctors per capita as the United States. Infant mortality is significantly lower in Cuba than in many areas of this country.
The Cuban priority of health care has extended to the world. Today Cuba has about 20,000 health care workers stationed in some of the poorest areas in the world. Recently Cuba sent about 500 health care workers to fight the Ebola virus in Africa. One Cuban worker has died because of exposure to this virus.
For many years thousands of Cubans risked their lives to battle the armed forces of apartheid South Africa. The apartheid government used enormous resources in their attempt to impose a government on the people of Angola. The defeat of the apartheid government in this war led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela from prison, the recognition of the African National Congress, as well as the election where Mandela became President.
At the same time as Cuba was making all these advances, the United States government maintained an economic boycott against the island. The U.S. government adopted laws that made it difficult for the citizens of this country to even visit Cuba. Even the owners of corporations who had investments in Cuba could have been arrested if they dared to enter this country.
The reason why the U.S. government has freed the Cuban Five is because all of their efforts to turn back the Cuban revolution have been defeated. At the same time as Cuba has become more and more respected in the world, the U.S. economic boycott has proved to be incapable of bringing down the Cuban government. In the world, this boycott has become an embarrassment.
Certainly the ruling powers of the United States will not give up their efforts of overthrowing the Cuban government. Today we don’t know how far this government will go with respect to normalizing relations with Cuba. What we do know is that the Cuban five are now at home. They are at home because of the efforts of the Cuban people as well as their friends around the world.
I believe there have been about five events during my life that have had a positive effect on people all over the world.
1) The Cuban Revolution.
2) The dismantling of the system of Jim Crow segregation. This allowed Black people gain many citizenship rights in this country.
3) The military defeat of the United States in Vietnam. This ended the holocaust of millions of human beings in that part of the world.
4) The defeat of South Africa in Angola and the subsequent election of Nelson Mandela to the Presidency of South Africa.
5) The freeing of the Cuban Five that may lead to some normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.
We can see that all these advances came about because of the mass actions of working people and farmers in the world. All these advances won international support. When we look at all the horrendous problems of the world, these events and a continued struggle give us reason to be optimistic about the future of this planet.